Lessons in Ratatouille

4 min Read Time

I have a son who is obsessed with Pixar movies, so I have seen “Ratatouille” about 100 times. It wasn’t until recently however, that I started to draw parallels between the movie’s lessons and lessons in organizational culture.

Lesson One: “Anyone Can Cook”
The core vision statement of Gusteau, the original chef who built his restaurant into an empire and what inspired a rat to pursue his dream to become a cook. There is debate around this vision within the movie – just because anyone can cook it doesn’t mean they should. Some people are better at this than others, and not every creation is going to make the menu. The point is that the vision is simple, aspirational, and inspiring.

Lesson Two: A gift is not enough – you need a passion. And mentors.
Remy the rat has a gift for being able to smell whatever ingredients are in something. He could have easily resigned to the comfortable position of poison checker for his rat clan. But he was soon bored – he wanted to create something. To add to this world instead of taking from it. You have people in our organization with gifts.  You have people with passion. You need to mentor these people (as imaginary Gusteau and Colette did for Remy) so they are able to express their passion creatively.

Lesson Three: Complacency = “Follow the Recipe”
With Gusteau dead, the new leaders at the restaurant have instructed the team to simply “follow the recipe”. Gusteau was paid to create – they are paid to follow what Gusteau already did and not improvise. Seems pretty logical – just keep doing what you know works and you continue on the same trajectory. Except the customers are getting bored. They want to know what does the chef have that is new. Organizations are in danger of falling into “follow the recipe” complacency where talented people are not willing to rock the boat due to fear of something or because they feel defeated, or simply restricted from making their own improvisations.

Lesson Four:  Frozen Foods might make you a lot of money, but at what cost to morale?
The new chef in charge is highly focused on making more money in the fastest, easiest way possible. In the movie, it is by expanding Gusteau’s recipes into a pre-packaged, frozen-foods line. Will it bring in revenue? Yes. Is anyone inspired?  No. The team feels like what they are doing is sacrificing the quality of their work, and killing the passion in their hearts that drives them to create every day.  In fact, there is a point in the movie where this plan is disbanded and the team rallies around a bonfire of the frozen foods and marketing materials and toasts to a new era of getting back to making real food for real people.

Lesson Five: “You are the boss. Inspire them.”
In the movie the team is about to face their toughest food critic who can make or break their restaurant. Linguini asks Colette “What should I do?”. She replies, “You are the boss. Inspire them.” I’m sure you all have teams of people who report to you, who look to you for guidance, mentorship, and they take their cues from what you do and what you say. It is your responsibility to inspire them, to ignite the passion that made them want to work there to begin with. If you don’t believe it – if you don’t feel it yourself you can’t expect them to believe and feel it too.

Lesson Six:  Give the customers something new by iterating on what already is.
The best dishes were iterations on existing recipes, not completely new ideas. How can you improve and innovate in simple ways to get some quick wins with measurable impact?  What can you do in the short term that is actionable and achievable but still innovative?

Lesson Seven:  Take off the toke and give your tiny chef the credit.
Remy grows continuously frustrated because he never receives recognition or credit for his work. (He spends most of the movie hiding under the toke of Linguini, telling him what to do.) Every company needs to do more in this area. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes that many people don’t see (and then they start to question the value of it). Bring more of this to the forefront. Thank people more, publicly recognize them, call them out for even the small things. Foster a culture of “I have your back.”. Remy is a rat – you can imagine what happened when people found out he was the cook behind all the innovation in the kitchen. Recognize people for taking initiative and have their back regardless if the outcome is good or bad.

Lesson Eight:  Connect with people on an emotional level.
This goes for both your employees and the customers you have. At the end of the movie there is this wonderful scene when the big bad critic guy tastes the dish of ratatouille prepared for him and he flashes back to an emotional moment where he is a boy being comforted by his mother after having gotten hurt falling off his bike. The food connected with him emotionally. Your products can do this too. You can do this with your staff. Listen, empathize, connect, guide, inspire.

If anything, I hope you go watch the movie. :-)

Heather Fleming